You’ve probably heard it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. Well when it comes to entrepreneurship, it’s both. Building meaningful connections and an entrepreneurial community will be crucial as you embark on your startup journey. But where do you even start? The idea of networking can feel intimidating and inauthentic. In this article, we’ll explore practical strategies for organically nurturing relationships, adding value, and ultimately creating a circle of connections that will support you in good times and bad. I’ll share my own experiences and lessons learned from building an entrepreneurial network over the past decade. You’ll walk away with actionable advice on joining communities, reaching out to potential mentors, and avoiding common networking mistakes. So let’s dive in and talk about how to network your way to startup success.
The Importance of Networking for Entrepreneurs
As an entrepreneur, networking should be one of your top priorities. Building connections and relationships with other business owners, influencers, and potential partners or clients is key to success.
Gain New Opportunities
By networking, you open yourself up to new opportunities like collaborations, mentorships, client referrals, and partnerships. You never know who you might meet or what doors might open through a new connection. Networking events, online communities, and social media are all ways to connect with people who can help support and grow your business.
Share Knowledge and Advice
Entrepreneurial communities are built on sharing. Don’t just network to gain something for yourself, but also to help others. Share your expertise, insights, and advice with your connections. Promote their businesses and events. Building goodwill and becoming a valuable resource for others is one of the best ways to network. People will appreciate your contributions and be more inclined to return the favor.
Find Mentors and Accountability Partners
Look for other, more experienced entrepreneurs in your networking circles who can act as informal mentors. Learn from their successes and mistakes. See if you can find an accountability partner, someone in a non-competing business who can support you, bounce around ideas, and keep you on track. These relationships can be invaluable for entrepreneurs.
Networking may require stepping out of your comfort zone, but the rewards of building your entrepreneurial community are well worth it. Look for networking opportunities in your local area and online. Contribute and connect, then watch as your circle of connections, collaborators, mentors, and partners grows. With the support of your community behind you, you’ll be well on your way to entrepreneurial success!
Finding the Right Networks and Communities
To build your entrepreneurial community, seek out networks and organizations that align with your business and interests. Look for:
Local networking groups
- Check with your chamber of commerce for networking mixers and events in your area. These are great for connecting with other small business owners in your community.
- Search online for “your city name” + “entrepreneur” or “small business” + “networking” to find local meetups and organizations.
- Consider joining relevant organizations like your local Rotary Club or Toastmasters to make valuable connections.
- Look for Facebook Groups, LinkedIn Groups, and Slack channels related to your industry or target audience. Engage by commenting on posts, asking questions and providing value to the community.
- Build connections on platforms like LinkedIn by connecting with people in your network as well as those with similar business interests or target audiences. Join relevant LinkedIn Groups to connect with like-minded individuals.
- Check out sites like Meetup.com, Eventbrite and Bizzabo to find online networking events, webinars, and virtual conferences in your industry.
Once you are able to attend in-person events again, look for major industry conferences in your area of business. These events are ripe with opportunities to make connections.
- Reach out to people with similar business interests via social media or email to suggest meeting in person at the conference.
- Make the most of your time by attending talks, visiting sponsor booths, and socializing at mixers or happy hours.
- Collect business cards and follow up with people via LinkedIn requests or emails after the conference.
Building an entrepreneurial community takes time and continuous effort. Start making valuable connections through networking groups and events in your local community and industry. Engage with people who share your business interests and values. Over time, these connections can blossom into mentorships, collaborations, partnerships and more. Through the power of community and networking, you’ll gain the support and resources to help your business thrive.
Making Meaningful Connections
Building real relationships is key to creating your entrepreneurial community. Focus on connecting with people who share your interests and values. Look for opportunities to start meaningful conversations, find shared interests, and build trust.
Reach out and introduce yourself.
Don’t be afraid to start a conversation with someone you find interesting. Introduce yourself with a smile, make eye contact, and shake hands. Share a little about yourself and your business in a genuine, engaging way. People will appreciate your friendliness and confidence.
Listen and ask good questions.
Show interest in others by listening to what they share about themselves and their business. Ask follow up questions to deepen the conversation and build rapport. People love to talk about themselves and their passions. Give them that opportunity.
Offer value with no strings attached.
Look for ways to help others in your network with no expectation of anything in return. Share useful information, make valuable introductions, promote their business on social media. When you give freely, it creates goodwill and strengthens relationships. The favor will likely be returned down the road.
Stay in touch and build familiarity.
Nurturing new connections takes effort. Follow up with people you’ve met and continue the conversation. Comment on their social media posts, invite them for coffee, offer to provide a helpful introduction. Repeat interactions breed familiarity and trust. Over time, these meaningful connections become real relationships.
With authenticity, generosity, and consistency, you’ll build an entrepreneurial community of people who want to see you succeed. Strong, mutually supportive relationships are the foundation for success in any business. Put in the effort to make meaningful connections and gain the benefits of an active, engaged network.
Providing Value to Your Network
Once you’ve built your network, it’s time to start providing value. The relationships in your network are reciprocal, meaning you both give and receive. If you only reach out to your contacts when you need something, they may start to feel used. Focus on helping others first, and the favors will come back around.
Start by sharing useful information with your network connections. For example, if you read an interesting article on startup funding, send it to a few entrepreneurs in your network. When you make a helpful introduction between two people, let them both know. Your thoughtfulness will be appreciated.
Offer to promote your contacts and their businesses. Give shoutouts on social media, write recommendations on LinkedIn, and suggest them as speakers or partners for relevant events. Make personal introductions to people that could benefit from knowing each other.
Look for opportunities to collaborate with members of your network. Work together on a project, cross-promote to each other’s audiences, or team up to submit a conference workshop proposal. Collaborating is a great way to strengthen relationships and gain visibility.
Finally, spread the word about your network contacts’ achievements and milestones. Celebrate their wins, promotions, awards, and new ventures. Send congratulatory messages and offer to help promote the news through your channels. Your genuine enthusiasm and support will make a lasting impression.
The key is to provide value to your network in small yet meaningful ways as often as possible. While it does require effort, the rewards of a strong, mutually beneficial network are well worth it. Focus on the relationships, not the transactions. Give generously and your entrepreneurial community will become a source of support and success.